SAN DIEGO — David Copley, owner and publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune until it was sold in 2009, died Tuesday after crashing his Aston Martin near his home in La Jolla.
Copley, 60, was found slumped in the front seat of his car early in the evening and rushed to Scripps Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
He had left a board meeting of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, saying he did not feel well. The cause of death was an apparent heart attack; Copley had received a heart transplant in 2005.
Copley’s family influenced nearly every facet of life in the San Diego region during the eight decades of newspaper ownership, with its endorsement of select politicians and support of economic development projects and educational ventures such as the establishment of UC San Diego. His mother, Helen, married James Copley, then the publisher, in 1965.
For several decades, the Copley Press published the San Diego Union and the Evening Tribune; in 1992 the papers merged. After James Copley died in 1973, Helen Copley assumed control of the newspapers. David Copley became publisher in 2001, three years before his mother’s death.
But as the newspaper industry’s economic fortunes waned, David Copley sold the newspapers and, in effect, retired from public life.
The Copley family used the editorial pages of its newspapers to spread its conservative, pro-business views. The Copley name adorns the downtown symphony hall and a plaza in Balboa Park.
David Copley financed Broadway musicals and art projects by the artist Christo. Shy and uncomfortable in public settings, he nonetheless enjoyed world travel, particularly on his yacht, and entertained lavishly at his home in La Jolla.
With David Copley as publisher, the newspaper won a Pulitzer Prize in 2006 for exposing the corruption of a leading Republican, Rep. Randall “Duke” Cunningham.
In 2009, David Copley sold the remaining newspaper interests to a private equity group, which later sold it to developer-hotelier “Papa Doug” Manchester, who renamed the paper the U-T San Diego.
Karin Winner, retired Union-Tribune editor, told the U-T that David Copley “had an enormous capacity for humor and an uncanny ability to understand the bigger picture....”
She added: “I’m really glad that he had the past few years to live his life the way he wanted to. I know that it was very hard on him to let the paper be sold, but he thought it was what was best for the community and the employees at the time.”